Stepping Through the Looking Glass of Apolicitism

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On the 21st of June, two days before the referendum on European Union membership, an Executive Officer asked how partisan they’re allowed to be in the run-up to polling day. It affects a lot of students they’re directly involved with and a vote to leave would be a disaster for them. The answer? You can encourage students to vote, but you can’t make any public stance on which way you think they should vote.

This might seem surprising to some, but not to those in the inner circles of Loughborough Students’ Union. I personally became involved in the campaign to remain affiliated to the National Union of Students, but it was a departure from the norm for Exec members here to become publicly active for a cause. The vast majority of the time, there is an overwhelming feeling that while you reside in elected office at LSU, you can’t have an opinion politically. And it’s all because we are repeatedly told that Loughborough students are not political and they want nothing from us but a direct focus on the Bubble.

In all fairness, there is more to it than just that. LSU is legally regarded as a charity, and charities are forbidden by law to publicly support a particular political party. This, of course, means the union cannot unveil a banner expressing its endorsement of Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems before an election. And that’s fine; those laws exist for a reason and it wouldn’t be right for LSU to adjust all of its members’ voices to one pitch. But, that aside, why have I not even felt comfortable using my personal Twitter account to express my political opinion?

It should be made clear that this is far from a personal criticism of anyone whatsoever. I have worked under two Presidents and my opinion of both of them has never wavered. This isn’t about individuals and their decisions; it’s far more ingrained than that.

I haven’t made public my political views whilst in office because I felt that my Exec team and the students who voted me in wouldn’t think it appropriate. But, the closer I get to the culmination of my two-year stint, the more I started to look at myself and wonder why. Politics is the art – or science, depending on your philosophical view – of creating systemic change. As someone who feels that there is a lot in the world that needs changing, why did I make no public attempt to do so?

Maybe it’s time for a bit of refreshing honesty on my part. For anyone wondering, I’ve been a Labour member for two years. I was dismayed at the General Election result last year; I was offended by George Osborne’s coining of the phrase ‘living wage’ to describe a minimum wage more than a pound below an actual living wage; I think Jeremy Hunt’s attempted imposition of the new contracts on junior doctors was immoral; and don’t get me started on Theresa May. The EU referendum? Drop me an email and we’ll have a chat.

Sabbatical officers in most other unions feel perfectly free to express their political opinion in any way they choose. Hey, maybe in hindsight, it’s my own fault for not pushing harder and being stronger in my support for what I thought right and my opposition to what I thought wrong. Still, I can’t regret putting positive changes to LSU Media at the top of my agenda during my time here. All I can say is that once July 22nd comes round, the floodgates will be irreversibly opened and my political reservoir will likely become a cascade. Maybe it’s time to unfriend me on Facebook and unfollow me on Twitter. I won’t judge you.

To finish, let’s hark back to earlier in the article, when I described how the feeling of imposed apoliticism was ‘ingrained’ in LSU’s leadership. It reminds me of how I described the attitude towards critical journalism before I became VP Media; it wasn’t expressly forbidden, but it just didn’t feel allowed. Maybe it’s time to put the question to Jonathan Ako: are you going to do to imposed apoliticism what I did to critical journalism? Let’s face it – if British politics is anything to go by, anything goes right now.

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Bryn Wilkes is the two-time Vice President for Media at Loughborough Students' Union, having held a committee position in both Label and LCR in 2013-14 before being elected.

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